Surprises are nice, but not when they involve underestimating the length of a couch! Of all the steps that go into fine-tuning a room’s design, perhaps none is more futile and yet likely to transpire than squinting to try and “see” if it’s all going to look right together. Envisioning what isn’t in front of you is a bit of a challenge, isn’t it? And of course it’s rarely preferable to wait and figure out a room layout when the pieces arrive (unless you enjoy dealing with customer service departments, in which case we can’t help you). You know the couch measurements, but what does that mean for the scale of that custom coffee table you’re having made or DIY-ing? How in the world will you nail the gallery wall without leaving a sea of nail holes in that fresh new paint? The following tips for perfecting measurements, patterns, and room layouts will save you a world of regret (and roughly 90 minutes on hold with customer care).
Before You Order
Lengths + Widths: Will there still be room to move around?
When deciding what size furniture to order, you need to consider not just whether it will fit in a certain space but also how nicely it will play with others. And since you only have so many measuring tapes and hands to hold them, here’s a trick from designer CeCe Barfield: Before there’s anything in the room at all, use painters tape to recreate the footprint of each furnishing and where you want it to go on the floor. Suddenly, you’ll realize, the eight-foot couch will fit—but it will also dwarf everything else in the room. Better to go with the seven-footer.
Massing: What should the scale of this custom table be?
Before making or having any piece custom-made, you almost want to live with its dimensions in 3-D before confirming them. Our executive director of ArchDigest.com, Keith Pollock, has used cardboard boxes to roughly construct a full-scale model of a piece he’s having made. If you sit beside that box-table often enough, you might realize it should actually be two inches taller—and round, now that you think of it, because everything else in the room is so angular.
Layouts: What’s missing? Will it all fit?
A measuring tape, a piece of paper, and a pencil are really the only things required to come up with a working floor plan. Even if it’s not a pretty thing, it’ll help you understand rug and furniture sizes. If you’re good with a ruler and decent at math, consider drafting a larger, more refined floor plan to scale, so you can toy more accurately. Better yet, if you’re handy on Photoshop, a digital version will be easier to change around to see different layouts (or paying a friend who is decent with Photoshop would be well worth the investment).
Before You Make it Permanent
Wall Art: Where should I put holes in the wall?
An oldie but a goodie: Cutting up pieces of newspaper to match the width and height of all the artwork you’re considering, and then lightly taping those to the wall to figure out the best arrangement is probably the easiest way to guarantee your gallery wall looks just the way you want it to.
Tiling: How do I make sure the pattern is perfect?
When tiling a backsplash or a bathroom floor or even a kitchen floor, you’ll want to lay the tiles out long before bringing mortar into the picture (and definitely before cutting any tiles to fit along the edges!). Re-arrange them to your heart’s content and take a photo every time you like the look of them. Print those photos and prop them where you can see them—at your desk, even—and only when you’ve finally decided you like one, go back and lay the tile. Use the photo as your guide!
Pathways: What’s the Best Route Through the Garden?
We can thank Episode 263 of the podcast 99% Invisible for this tip, which explains (among other things) how officials in Finland make roads and throughways based on “desire paths” (those well-worn shortcuts made “when enough pedestrians or cyclists collectively cut corners or otherwise circumvent prescribed routes”)—they map where people walk after snowfall to find the best route. At home, you can apply this to the task of laying a garden path or walkway: Wait until it snows (assuming snow is something that happens where you live), go about your business, and then measure and photograph the route most traveled. That’s where your walkway should go.
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